Sick of Linseed

Q. I seem to be having an allergic reaction to linseed oil paints; I get a headache and a general dizzy sort of feeling when I breathe the fumes for too long. My studio is in the living area of my house, and I was hoping to find an oil paint I can live with. I’ve read that poppy oil has no odor and I’d like to use it as a binder, but I’ve found that the term odorless doesn’t necessarily mean “no fumes,” so the chemical properties of this oil are of interest to me. Does poppy oil polymerize and give off gases while it’s drying down the way linseed oil does?

A. I can’t give medical advice in this column, so I suggest that you seek the help of a doctor in order to establish whether you’re allergic to linseed oil vapors, or are sensitized to them instead (there’s a difference). However, since you use the word odorless, I could guess that you’re referring to the solvent “odorless mineral spirits” and not the oil. If that’s the case, switching to poppy oil won’t help.

In any case, stop doing what you’re doing until you’ve consulted a medical doctor who understands the toxicology of artists’ materials. If the problem persists, you might consider using a different paint: acrylic dispersions, watercolors, egg temperas, gouache paints and so on.

Cheryl Criss is a signature member of the American Watercolor Society and has won numerous awards, including the Edgar Whitney Award from AWS.

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